At Jeff Teague's introductory press conference earlier this month, the speedy guard, who by admission likes to "get up and down a little bit" when it comes to playing with heightened pace, won over the hearts and minds of Indiana nearly as quickly as his time in Atlanta ran its course to close the 2015-16 season.
Having only a year ago been at the helm of a 60-win team and distinguished as an All-Star, head coach Mike Budenholzer opted to play Dennis Schroder in key moments during Atlanta's second round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, effectively communicating which point guard he favored in his dual role as the team's President of Basketball Operations. With the younger guard in clear possession of the team's vote of confidence, rumors began to swirl in early May that Teague had sold his Buckhead penthouse in anticipation of his expiring contract being traded.
When the 28-year-old got word that he was acquired by the Indiana Pacers, he later admitted it was "the best news I'd heard in years."
From professing his love for Indianapolis to gushing over having the opportunity to play with Paul George, it was evident from Teague's presser and various interviews that he readily identifies with his hometown. What is less clear is how his seven seasons of development in his home away from home will impact his return to Indiana.
Now that free agency has settled down, Jason Walker, the managing editor at SB Nation's Peachtree Hoops, agreed to do a Q&A with Indy Cornrows to elucidate some of the finer points of Teague's tenure with the Atlanta Hawks.
Do you interpret Atlanta's decision to move forward with Dennis Schroder as the team's starting point guard as being financially motivated? What basketball-related reasons were there to flip Jeff Teague for the No. 12 pick?
JW: They had to make a choice between the two of the them - both were hampered by the other's presence and the team had to look to the future. They have to figure out what they have in Dennis and he showed enough in the Cleveland series to warrant a risk in giving him the job. Toss in the fact that Teague was going to be a free agent after next season and Dennis will be a restricted free agent, then the timing was right for a move.
Upon being traded, Teague told The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski that he felt he and Schroder could have "played more together" and been "a really dynamic two guys who could shoot and penetrate and do it all." However, according to NBA Wowy, those two only shared the floor for a total of 84 minutes last season. Why do you think Coach Budenholzer shied away from this diminutive backcourt pairing?
JW: They were terrible defensively together and, given the team was dedicated enough to defense to be the second best last season, that was enough to scrap the idea.
Some interpreted Teague's decision to publicly announce via Instagram that he had played the entire 2015-16 season with a torn patellar tendon in his knee as him seeking leverage over the Hawks in trade negotiations. Were there any obvious signs that he was hampered?
JW: Yes, I said for weeks that he wasn't right, the explosiveness wasn't there late in the season and that could have played a role in leaning to Dennis in the Cleveland series.
How concerning should it be for the Pacers that Teague is rehabbing a knee injury, at age 28, when his game is mostly predicated upon his quickness? In what, if any, ways did the speedy guard show he can be effective without the basketball in Atlanta?
JW: What makes Teague a plus PG is his quickness, for sure, and he uses that a lot as a crutch defensively, relying on trail blocking and poking the dribble from behind at times. Offensively, when he's right, you can't keep him in front of you and he breaks down a defense so well it opens up shooters and bigs for weakly defended shots.
Off the ball, he worked at being a better shooter and his 3-pt rate went up over his tenure as a Hawk. He's not a Jason Terry type off the ball and his main value is having the ball in his hands, so if I'm a Pacer fan, I'm wanting Jeff with the ball, triggering the offense.
Despite playing "tug-of-war" with Schroder for minutes and being limited by injury, Teague was still one of only five players in the league to average over 11 drives per game. Do you attribute his success at penetrating the lane more to his speed and creativity with the basketball or to the floor space inherent when playing on the sixth best three-point shooting team in the league, in terms of total shots made from beyond the arc (815)?
JW: Well, you need both. The fastest ballhandlers in the league still can't dribble through three guys, so if Indiana doesn't have shooters, it'll be tough sledding to get the best out of Jeff. That said, and as I stated just above, when he's healthy, you can't keep him in front of you, so he'll make the defense pay attention to him- it'll be up to the rest of the guys to make the open shot.
As far as his driving, this rate went up considerably after the trade deadline and he was relieved to be staying in Atlanta. He can be a wallflower at times and Indiana, like Atlanta before, is going to need Jeff to be that attacker 100% of the time, not 50% as he sometimes delivered in Atlanta. Why was this? Sometimes it would be the opponent that would get into Jeff and cause the passive play, sometimes it would just be one of those games that he wasn't intent on attacking. He was always the Hawks X-Factor in that, if Jeff came to attack, the offense would soar, otherwise, it was a struggle.
Since trading George Hill and replacing Ian Mahinmi with Al Jefferson, Larry Bird has remained steadfast in his belief that smart team defense will outweigh any concerns with notoriously leaky individual defenders, telling the Indy Star's Nate Taylor, "If you have a system (and) everybody is glued into that system, you're going to defend well." Teague is not exactly well-known for his containment, but the Hawks allowed the second-fewest points per 100 possessions (98.8) in the league, trailing only the San Antonio Spurs (96.6). How exactly did Coach Budenholzer go about masking his flaws on that end of the floor?
JW: It helps when you have two of the top 15 defensive guys in the league. Paul Millsap and Al Horford are extremely talented and unheralded defensive players who make a lot happen on the defense end. Also, Kyle Korver is a precise defender who is always in the right spot and helps keep the team in line defensively as well. Teague is not a floor general defensively and relies on his quickness to overcome some deficiencies in working over screens, etc, but wasn't a liability, either, so it played just fine with those guys behind him.
My final thought on Jeff is that he was a great Hawk who was fun to watch but didn't consistently hit his mark from game to game, due in large part to whether or not he brought intensity to the game every night. When we got aggressive Teague, it was magnificent. When we got the Wallflower Teague, it was frustrating. I think it was that inconsistency that led to the Hawks being alright with parting with Jeff.